China has confirmed the launch Thursday at 9:22 a.m. (01:22 UTC) of three astronauts to its space station under construction, for a first three-month mission.
The three astronauts, all three male, will take off from Jiuquan base in the Gobi Desert (northwest), the space agency in charge of human space flights (CMSA) announced at a press conference.
They will take place aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket, which will dock at Tianhe ("Celestial Harmony"), the only module of the station already in space.
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Control center and home for astronauts, Tianhe was placed at the end of April in low earth orbit (350-390 km above sea level).
On board, the astronauts will not be idle: maintenance, installation of equipment, spacewalks, preparation of upcoming construction missions and stays of future crews.
The Shenzhou-12 mission is the third launch of the 11 that will be required for the construction of the station between 2021 and 2022. Four manned missions are planned in total.
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In addition to the Tianhe already in place, the two remaining modules - which will be laboratories - are expected to be sent to space next year. These will make it possible to conduct experiments in biotechnology, medicine, astronomy or space technologies. In a context of tension with the West, the success of the mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing, which is preparing to celebrate on July 1 the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).